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Penguins throw lifeline to center Riley Sheahan

Jonathan Bombulie
| Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017, 6:12 p.m.
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) tries to steal the puck from Detroit Red Wings center Riley Sheahan (15) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) tries to steal the puck from Detroit Red Wings center Riley Sheahan (15) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
The Penguins' Patric Hornqvist gets check off the puck by the Red Wings' Riley Sheahan in the second period Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Patric Hornqvist gets check off the puck by the Red Wings' Riley Sheahan in the second period Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.

He's getting a change of scenery by joining championship-caliber teammates, two of whom were his buddies in college.

He's leaving behind a time of uncertainty where he didn't know for sure which jersey he would wear for his next game.

From Riley Sheahan's perspective, there's a lot to like about the trade that sent him and a fifth-round draft pick from the Detroit Red Wings to the Penguins for winger Scott Wilson and a third-round pick Saturday.

“It kind of gives you a little bit of confidence going in,” Sheahan said Sunday. “Obviously, they have great coaching and the last two years, they've won the Cup, so they're doing something right.”

It's pretty clear what the deal brings to the Penguins. It gives them an experienced professional center to play behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin now that Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen moved on in free agency.

The 6-foot-3 Sheahan will provide physicality, defensive acumen and penalty-killing ability to the team's bottom-six forward group.

“He has good size,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He can skate. He has shown an ability to have success in this league. I know last year wasn't the year that he wanted to have, but we're hopeful that he'll fit into this group, and he'll play the type of game that we want to play.”

For Sheahan, meanwhile, the biggest benefit of the deal might be a chance to put last season in the rear-view mirror.

In his first three seasons in the NHL, Sheahan was a bona fide offensive contributor for the Red Wings, averaging about 12 goals and 30 points a year. Last season, he went 79 games without a goal before scoring twice in the last game of the year.

“It was tough,” Sheahan said. “Knowing that I'd performed at this level and contributed on the scoresheet the past few years of my career, not doing the same thing last year was a struggle. I was trying to contribute in different ways, trying to play smart and play a sound defensive game and things like that.

“It was tough, but I think I've kind of experienced the worst. I just have to build up from there.”

The knowledge he's joining an up-tempo offense with quality linemates could help rebuild Sheahan's confidence, too.

“Skating I wouldn't say is a low point in my game. I can keep up,” Sheahan said. “Just being smart, being in the right position and trying to get those guys the puck that have some amazing offensive ability, that's something I can focus on and help out with. I'm not worried about that.”

The trade put to rest some worries Sheahan might have had about where he'd be spending his immediate future as well.

When the Red Wings hit a salary cap crunch this summer, rumors began to spread about how the team would shed payroll. During training camp, Sheahan said he heard rumblings he might be on the move.

“It wasn't a total surprise,” Sheahan said. “It's been a crazy last day, but I'm looking forward to the opportunity. I'm leaving behind a great organization and some great teammates, but I'm definitely excited for the change of scenery and to get started with such an awesome organization.”

The trade also reunites Sheahan with Notre Dame teammates Bryan Rust and Ian Cole and with defenseman Matt Hunwick, with whom he trained in the summer in Michigan.

Sheahan said Crosby already reached out to him to welcome him to the team.

“It's nice connecting with some guys and breaking the ice a bit and knowing that a change of scenery will be good from a teammate standpoint,” Sheahan said.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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